Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Change One Word, Change Your Life

If you have done much counseling or coaching you've probably discovered that a good percentage of the problems revolve around communication or the lack of, and conflict resolution. Many find that in communicating we have a tendency to create conflict and then have difficulty resolving it once it starts.  Often this is because of how we approach conversations with others.   

Recently, my wife confided in me that one of the things that she wished I change was how I responded to her ideas.  She explained that I almost always responded negatively immediately to any suggestion she made.  She suggested that it would be much better if I responded in a positive, encouraging way even if I didn't think it was a good idea.  She would start a conversation with an idea and I would immediately throw it into a contentious discourse if she were to continue it.  She could verbally spar by arguing her case or end the conversation there.  So most times she discontinued the conversation.

As I thought about her request, I realized that getting it "right" was the most important thing for me.   So it was natural for me to respond by telling her what I thought about her idea.  I was not in the least thinking about how she felt.  My problem was my focus on the task over the relationship.  I imagine men in general, especially pastors struggle with this in their marriage and with their congregation and staff.  Do I hear any amens?  We are quick to make judgements, and have confidence that we can discern what is right or wrong.  Confrontation is often invigorating.  We've been taught to debate and feel the rush of a good exchange of ideas or opinions.  This personality helped mature our faith and understanding of the Gospel and the prophet in us is surely a strength in preaching and arguing in a theology class.  However, when it comes to relationships, the constant conflict can be a detriment.  Over time, it can damage a marriage, destroy relationships and hinder a pastor's ability to lead effectively.  One easy way to start to change is eliminating the use of "but".

I've found that the person with the confrontational or task oriented personality has the tendency to start a sentence with "but" or a negative and then proceed to share an opposing opinion or idea. Even coaching them is problematic because any suggestion or comment I offer is met with a "but" or "yes, but"...

One way to overcome the "but" mindset and help reduce conflict is to exchange the word "but" for "and" in your conversations.  It is a simple solution that can work wonders.  To show you the difference between "and" vs "but" dialogues, try this exercise.  Have a conversation with another person about a topic. Each person takes an opposing view, trying to convince the other that his or her view is correct. Each person takes turns making a statement for his or her case and starts the sentence with "but".  For example, "I like to vacation in the mountains".  The next person's statement would start with "but".  "But, I like to vacation at the beach."  "But, the mountains are so refreshingly cool."  "But, the beach is so relaxing and warm"

After five or six exchanges, try the same conversation only starting each statement with "and" instead of "but".  "And, I like to vacation at the beach."  "And, I enjoy the cool weather".  "And I like the hot sun".  Notice how the whole tone of the conversation changes from a competitive nature to one that is more informational and much less confrontational.  Instead of conflict, you look to find what you have in common, the positive.  Even when you are exchanging a differing opinion the conversation can be positive.

I recently coached a pastor who had a confrontational personality.  He admitted that he was a "contrarian" by nature and struggled with giving encouragement. He certainly had a "but" mindset.  The staff would tell me that their pastor seldom agreed with any statement, almost always challenging any suggestion, ministry idea or opinion.  If you mentioned that you liked a certain book, he would usually share something that he didn't like about it.  Planning sessions were long and often left the staff feeling confused, deflated and defeated.  Members of the staff complained that they had a hard time brainstorming ideas with him because almost all ideas were criticized from the start.  When they finally agreed, "it was like we had been through a battle".  After talking with the pastor, I realized that his objective was to help the person or team get it "right", and he always considered his opinion or idea the "right" one.  Therefore he always evaluated each statement and looked for the flaws or the negative.  He had no thought of the impact of the process on individuals or the staff as a whole. Building them up was not his goal, it was to get it right.

It is ironic that his laser focus on getting it right actually hurt the team's ability to get it right.  Without the encouragement, team members were less likely to give ideas and input, afraid of having their ideas shot down.  If the pastor would simply acknowledge each person's idea with a positive, "yeah, that is a good or interesting idea, then use the word "and" instead of "but", it would change the whole dynamic of the conversation. It is possible to be both encouraging and informational (1 Peter 3:15).  We are called to the ministry of reconciliation and it is hard to reconcile with someone when we are in conflict.  (2 Cor. 5:18)
  • If you are of a "but" mindset, begin with being honest with yourself and realize that you have that personality and commit to being more intentional about encouraging others. 
  • Find the person that can help you change the way you communicate, hold you accountable and remind you when you use the word "but" or start off in the negative.
  • As you become aware of how often you use the word, begin to exchange "but" with "and".  The object is to help you begin to add the relational grace to your conversations.  Remember, it's not always about being "right" but about being the most effective for Christ. 


Anonymous said...

Great blog!

Freedom in the Dance said...

Great advice! I imagine this will go a long way in communication with my twin fourteen yr. old sons! Thank you!!!

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